My neighbor Leah is amazing with her leaves. Every Tuesday morning, she fills up her two big brown compost bins with leaves, then she fills two other big brown compost bins she has borrowed from her neighbors, then she stands on the sidewalk with her rake to wait for the city compost truck to come. As soon as they take her leaves, she quickly refills the four containers and pushes them across the street for when the truck comes back down the other side of the street. She is utterly amazing, she is so on top of her leaves.

I do not get leaves.

This year, I am even more confused about what to do with my leaves. The city will not pick them up. I cannot afford a compost bin. I see people mulching their leaves with their lawn mowers, but I only have a push mower.

Every year, my children start to rake two or three little piles when they see all the neighbor kids raking, then they lose interest and leave those piles in the middle of the yard.

Last week, my six-year-old son, Little Brother, dumped his Pikachu jack o’lantern’s guts “into the leaf pile.” I assumed he meant the leaf pile way in the back of the yard, but instead he dumped them into one of the abandoned leaf piles in the middle of the yard, where, I guess, they will freeze until spring.

So sad.

Then my girlfriend Manjula emails that Diwali is here. She describes it as “New Year and Christmas and Fourth of July all wrapped into one.” Our families are far away, but thanks to her, I know the schedules of all the best Indian buffets in town this weekend. I tell her about an Odissi dance performance on Saturday night. Happy Diwali!

Diwali is the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain festival of lights, a five day festival to celebrate goodness triumphing over evil, knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness. Many stories explain the origin of the holiday, including Rama and Laxman triumphing over Ravana, Krishna defeating the demon Naraka, Vishnu vanquishing the tyrant Bali, Kali destroying evil. For five days, oil lamps are lit to represent how the light of knowledge can dispel all the negative forces of wickedness, violence, anger, fear, envy, lust, greed, bigotry, injustice, oppression, suffering, more. Special wishes go out to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, on the third day; special prayers are said for brothers on the fifth (after which brothers bless and give presents to their sisters).

An official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji, these days are all firecrackers and sparklers, new clothes, sweets, prayer, family, and feasting.

Outside the South Asian diaspora, Diwali is just another day, with a U of M football game, daylight savings time, school, work, leaves, family far away. I light Little Brother’s jack o’lantern and sleep with all the lights on.

With the change in season, I make the children’s favorite autumn soups--daikon soup, winter melon soup, beef noodle soup. Everything is right when we can all sit down together as a family for a hearty meal. I love it when my teenaged daughter Hao Hao comes home from crew, all kisses and hugs, to tell a funny story about a friend who has broken her foot. I counter with a story about another friend who ran the Paris Marathon on a broken foot. She laughs that she did not know he was so manly, that this upsets the entire image she had of him.

Her sparkling laughter disperses all the darkness.